The Ghost of Education Past
In this three-part post we will examine the progression of life as a teacher and of education in general from the 1960’s, from today, and look into the future. Much like the original Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol but with less scary ghosts!
Enter the 1960’s
The time period has been well chronicled by our society as a time of immense change sometimes for the better, other times not. At the start of the 60’s dress was conservative, reminiscent of the 1950’s, however, by the late 60’s we have tie-dye, long hair, and kids were pushing the limits with everything. This decade also gave us The Civil Rights Act, The Beatles, and John F. Kennedy.
Major issues in education during the 1960’s
Desegregation occurred in 1957; the impact of that transition was still being felt, especially in the south. Certainly during this time period segregation in schools by law, or de jure, was ended. However, through the 60’s, most black Americans attended majority black schools resulting in a de facto segregation across many parts of the country.
Moving away from tracking
In addition to the separation of black students and white students we also saw massive tracking efforts that occurred over class lines in the decades prior to the 1960’s. In the 1950’s and before, poor students generally were pushed into vocational education programs that were very robust during this time period with the expectation of landing a job in a factory or doing labor right out of high school. Conversely, wealthy students were pushed into a more liberal arts style of education with an emphasis on, and expectation of, going to college. Not surprisingly, this lead to a societal view that those in vocational programs were somehow less intelligent than those in the college bound programs.
During the 1960’s we see a shift from this rigid tracking to schools where more students have access to more classes in a public school. (Lee and Ready 2009) In some cases students had total control over what classes they wanted to take. If a student wanted to take a difficult science course they needed to first pass the pre-requisites. If they couldn’t pass the prerequisites then they were not admitted to the class. In this way high school in the 60’s was more like college is today. If students failed they were not moved to the next grade, they had to repeat until passing or dropping out. Is this harsh? Possibly. But those were the times right?
Women of 1960’s can probably speak to this better than I can; however, the majority of women during this time period were not expected to become professionals. They were expected to be homemakers, teachers, secretaries, or nurses. In fact a big reason that we pay teachers less in 2016 is due to the view on teaching as a woman’s job starting well before the 1960’s. Class offerings and choices for women reflect these societal viewpoints, young girls could take typing classes or home economics. Women were not expected to take electives such as welding, auto shop, or word working because these were for the boys.
Special education programs of the time were very limited. This was the era in which the ball started to just barely get moving with regards to special education. The needs of many were not met and would not be met for years to come. JFK did start to increase federal spending towards meeting the needs of all students however; citizens with special needs were left out of The Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The 1960’s were an interesting time for language learners, funding for bilingual education was actually increasing and in 1968 the Bilingual Education Act was signed into law setting aside funding for schools or districts who decided to start a bilingual education program. This act was in force until No Child Left Behind where the emphasis shifted to English acquisition rather than developing both languages.
What classes were available to students?
The goal of education in the 60’s was to get students to a job or to college so that they could later get a job. As such there were a variety of classes offered to students during this time at almost all high schools in the country. As described above, some of these classes might not be offered to all students depending on class, gender, or other needs, but nonetheless they were offered to some students. Education and course offerings were comprehensive and robust. Highlighted below are some of the more hands-on options, however, it should be noted that there also were many other elective choices that were more academic as well.
P.E. back in the day was more than just learning to play different games or sports, it was a time to actually work out. Often physical education classes in the 60’s would start with push-ups, sit-ups, and calisthenics such as burpees or jumping jacks. This might have been followed up with a run for a mile. This was just to start class! Then would come the time to play a game like baseball, football, soccer, tennis, or any other sport. There was also the Presidential Fitness Award, which, for so many, inspired hatred and memories of failure as noted here (http://www.sbnation.com/2015/7/31/9038201/the-sad-sad-stories-of-the-presidential-fitness-test). Although many argue that seemingly harsh PE classes were more traumatizing than helpful I also think it helped students to realize their strengths and weaknesses and if nothing else they got to be active for a portion of the day.
Ahhhhh hot lunch! While school lunches for students in poverty were not fully funded at this point some legislation had begun during the 1960’s. When we look at school lunches and their production we see a shift to lunches being created in centralized locations during this time and then shipped to schools. Peanut butter and jelly was always an option but often students were given vegetables, fruits, and real food like chicken drumsticks or chili con carne. The meals might not have tasted the best but they were actually fairly complete and healthy. Best of all there was no fast food sold in cafeterias.
Time to leave the past in the past!
With the end of the 60’s we leave the past of education and will be moving on to the Ghost of Teachers Present in the next post. Many things have changed since the 1960’s, we will be sure to delve into these in depth on Christmas Eve, and there will be a final post giving a glimpse into the future of teaching and education in America that will come out on Christmas day.
Forward To Education Present
Skip To Education Future
English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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